Living like a local: A place in the sun

Aug 24, 2023 • 4 min. read | By Karen Bright

Wrightsville Beach is one of Living Like a Local columnist Karen Bright's top picks for a local beach day. (File photo by T.J. Drechsel)


Late August is a beautiful time of year in Southeastern North Carolina! I’m not talking about the blazing hot sun, unforgiving humidity or even the oncoming threat of hurricanes. The beauty of late August is due to the start of the school year. The kids go to school and the onslaught of beach visitors go home. This means the beaches are ours again for the last leg of summer! We are lucky to have many beaches within driving distance, but as you may guess, I have some favorites. 


Wrightsville Beach will always have a special place in my heart. This is where I first stepped foot in North Carolina. I have lived here, I have worked here, and I will always find time to relax here. The south end of the beach is glorious because the Intracoastal Waterway meets the ocean and makes for a calm swimming spot. If you choose to spend your time within the main or central part of the beach, you will have the added benefit of walking to many restaurants and shops. Admittedly, the shopping is limited to Wings (a really great spot for tacky souvenirs) and surf shops. These do have some cute clothes, quality sunglasses or the famous Rainbow Sandals brand of flip flops. If you want to be a local, you will need a pair of these. The north end of the beach is great for walking and finding seashells. Wrightsville is the place to be in the off-season when the weather is warm and the traffic has dwindled. 


If you own a four-wheel drive vehicle, then I suggest the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. As you might remember from my April article, this is where you will find the Basin (or Hermit) trailhead. In order to drive on the beach, you will need a pass. The visitor center is located to the immediate left of the beach entrance. You can purchase a day pass or season pass. I know you will want a season pass as this beach is beautiful!  I personally like to go when the tide is low and the water tends to be a little more calm, as this stretch of beach is not serviced by lifeguards. Too many people think they are immune to the dangers of the ocean and its waves. As a public service announcement, please know you are not. As I have always told my daughter; do not be scared, just be aware. That being said, the fun of the sand and ocean is unmatched by anything. 


Carolina Beach is another excellent option. It has restaurants, weekly live music and fireworks, a Ferris wheel, and so many other options along with sitting on the sand. 


Although it is only a 40-minute drive, give or take, from Wilmington, Pender County beaches are worth the trip. We have been known to vacation at Topsail Island. These beaches are great not only for the sandy beaches, but for the piers—all three provide free parking and bathrooms. The fees for fishing and walking differ based on the pier. They also all have restaurants, shops, and the ability to simply see the views. Seaview Fishing Pier is the northernmost pier, in North Topsail Beach, then you come down to Surf City Ocean Pier, then finally the Jolly Roger Pier at Topsail Beach. I find Pender County beaches to be less crowded than the beaches of New Hanover County in the summer, and even quieter in the off-season, if that’s what you’re after.


Here in Southeastern North Carolina, you will not see the approach of cooler weather or changing leaves for many months. We will leave that for the mountains. Our much-appreciated summer visitors can head west for fall festivities, including some excellent collegiate and professional football. We, in turn, will enjoy the serenity of our local beaches for a couple more months.